Recasting Campus Histories: Archival Research, Digital History, and the Sense of Place

Jennifer Helgren, University of the Pacific

In Space and Place (1977), Yi-Fu Tuan proposes that spaces take on meaning and value over time and become places. Our sense of place brings security and can enhance our well-being. University campus histories are often dismissed as narrow and provincial, but if they properly reflect students’ identities they can enhance their sense of place and belonging. As recent histories of slavery and its legacies on college campuses by scholars like Hilary Green demonstrate, they also illuminate broader national and global issues. My paper outlines my classroom strategies to engage undergraduates through public digital history projects that unearth campus stories about gender, race, class, ability, and other intersectional identities. We start with two published institutional histories, and then we head to the archives. Research in campus archives enables students to see through institutional narratives and explore the production of knowledge. A sample project that I will show is Kizuna: Bonds Beyond Incarceration. A team of undergraduate students, faculty, and staff created an app about the over fifty Japanese American students studying at the University of the Pacific in 1942 when President Roosevelt’s Order 9066 disrupted their education and their lives. Having just returned from the Covid shutdown, our team started with questions about the former students’ well-being. (Was the university responsive? What was the institution’s role in helping the students?) And we quickly realized that the project had the powerful potential to help current students reflect on the diversity of the student body and begin to see their own community’s histories reflected. While plaques and public monuments often reproduce narratives created by the powerful, digital projects may reflect diverse experiences, and they can be made widely available. They may help anchor students in the campus’s temporal and spatial context.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 155. Educational Institutions and Student Well-Being